Ego. It’s the force that drives us. It’s the psychological phenomenon that enables each of us to pursue our aspirations – whether they be getting the football across the goal line or nailing that monster account. According to Sigmund Freud, the ego is the key component of our psyches, empowering us to manage day-to-day realities.
In the everyday lexicon, however, ego has come to be more closely associated with attitude. Do perennial top producers have super-sized egos or do they just appear that way? It’s hard to imagine a top advisor being overly humble or withdrawn.
While they may outwardly flaunt their success among peers at the annual sales conference or around the office, when it comes to client contact are they actually capable of managing their ego or, better yet, controlling it and using it to their advantage?
“It’s absolutely vital to have confidence in this business,” says Bob Enright, a San Francisco-area wealth manager with the Burton-Enright Group. “While you cannot let your ego run out of control to the point where your head won’t fit through the door, clients want to see confidence in their advisor. If you’re not completely knowledgeable and comfortable with your recommendations, they’ll sense this and you’ll pay for it.”
Drew J. Stevens Ph.D., president of Eureka, Mo.-based consulting firm, Getting to the Finish Line and who counts American International Group and the Federal Reserve Bank as clients, agrees. “A healthy ego vs. a strong/overpowering ego is typically one that is capable of booking substantial business and gaining multiple orders,” he says. “No one ever frowns on confidence, yet there is a clich?(C) on Wall Street, ?You’re only as good as your last trade.’ Egotism can only last so long.”
But if a certain ego level can be healthy and productive, how does one keep it at the right level? “There’s a big difference between confidence and cockiness,” advises executive coach Stefanie Smith. “The former drives sales, the latter drives clients away.” It sounds obvious, but it can be easily overlooked.
Nearly every advisor feels at one time like he’s made a thousand cold calls, only to receive an equal number of rejections, or had a large turnout at a costly seminar only to learn the entire audience attended for the free lunch. Your direct mail package may have resulted in no responses. The prospect you met with several times suddenly walks away because an outsider told him he didn’t need your services despite the logic of your case. It’s easy to see how one’s ego can take a beating. It’s not as easy to see why those who survive in this business not only bounce back from rejection but grow from it.
“Rejection is an opportunity to analyze client behavior, learn more and turn a negative into a positive,” says Michael J. Guzzo, an advisor in Medford, N.Y. with a large senior clientele. “While your ego shows confidence, you cannot let it get in the way of the client, who has to come first. Ask about the client’s needs, present a sensible plan and explain the reasoning behind your recommendations. Giving the client what he needs is the true royal treatment.” When a sudden rejection derails what looked like a promising sale, Guzzo recommends maintaining focus and communication.
“Sincerely ask the prospect what went wrong. Do not be confrontational. There could be something [serious] that you were not aware of, like a sudden change in the client’s employment status, or something frivolous like an intrusive relative,” Guzzo advises. “Ask if you could meet again in the near future. They’ll usually agree. Rationally explain your recommendations and qualifications. Don’t take it personally and don’t let your ego get in the way.”
Marketing yourself can sometimes be described as an ongoing lesson in breaking through barriers, which is the determined person’s way of handling what can seem like a constant stream of rejection. Sometimes telling someone you can do it better, faster or cheaper is not enough. There’s the matter of getting a key decision-maker to answer your phone call or make that vital introduction. There’s the preparation and follow-up and the all-important process of winning the client’s trust. Further complicating the communications procedure are issues like scheduling or the all-imposing spouse or partner who appears to be more of a barrier to keep you from moving forward. Hurdles like these can weaken the most durable egos. How does one circumvent the barriers and get the client to “yes” while putting his often-bruised ego to work in the process?
“A strong and healthy ego is indicative of someone secure in who he is and confident in his ability to communicate and be believed. This is typical of the top 1 percent of salespeople we have studied,” says Jacques Werth, who examined the sales-performance processes of top salespeople in 23 different industries during a 40-year period for his book, “High Probability Selling.”
“A salesperson with an overpowering ego is demonstrating basic insecurity. That’s a sign of weakness,” Werth continues. “The only way they can sell is through overbearing mental manipulation, which turns off most prospects.”
No matter what the size of one’s ego, at the end of the day it’s the client who’s the boss. Therefore, it’s vital to remember the things they want, which are usually good service. “No one likes to think they’ve been forgotten,” Enright notes. “What may appear to be little things are often actually important.” Enright says it’s “unforgivable” not to return client phone calls or be late for appointments. “These give the perception that not only is the client not important in your eyes, but that you’re more important than he is. That’s a case of an ego run amuck, which will backfire.”
But egos are not one-size-fits-all products. Like a person’s sense of humor, they’re unique. What may come across as a misanthropic ego for one advisor may be interpreted as confident by another. Various clients will also perceive and react differently to the advisor’s behavior. The same attitude that creates a happy, productive relationship for Client A may not translate well for Clients B or C – here lies a new angle for the cult of one’s personality, which is inseparable from a sales or management style.
“Salespeople should not check their egos at the door,” Werth says. “That would make them doormats. Nor should they try to ?out ego’ other high-ego types. A better approach is to match status – meet the prospect/client at the same level. If she has a firm handshake, speaks in short declarative sentences and carries herself with poise, then do the same. This can be highly effective.”
Similarly, others feel ego, an offshoot of emotion, can be felt mutually among likeminded individuals and advisors should move to capitalize on this phenomenon.
“Powerful people like to be around similar people,” notes Alan Allard, of consulting firm Genius Dynamics, Inc., who’s advised sales forces at Lucent Technologies and The Prudential. “They already have enough timid souls around them. This is a self-esteem issue, as is communicating as a peer and partner. Believe in yourself and what you offer and prospects will respond accordingly.”
Is the egomaniac down the hall in the office filled with plaques and awards getting on your nerves? Before you level the criticism, examine the evidence. Is he broadcasting a false status or are his assets/accounts truly increasing every year? Is he regularly cultivating centers of influence or exploring new marketing avenues? Is he consistently providing innovative solutions for clients – doing the types of things that get people talking, and reaping the rewards? If so, this may be a case of an ego as a result of successful behavior.
“Ego is the desire for achievement and significance,” says Jim Cathcart, author of “Relationship Selling and the Acorn Principle.” “The stronger this impulse is in a senior advisor, the more they will work to fulfill it. But maturity, integrity and character are essential to keep our egos in check.”
What about the senior advisor for whom, to borrow from James Bond, the world is not enough? These are the ones who want each day to be bigger, faster and more productive than the preceding one. While there may be a dose of unreality in this philosophy if a sales manager had to choose one over the other, surely she’d select the hard-charging, high flyer rather than anyone content with keeping things the way they are. These types are generally never satisfied with their performance.
“The senior advisor should rely on knowledge and skill and realize that the good prospects and clients are often smart and somewhat skeptical. Empathize with them while communicating your expertise. Putting the prospect’s best interest first almost always succeeds,” says Jim Freeman of broker-dealer Cantella & Co., Inc. “A confident advisor shouldn’t need to check their ego at the door providing they remember that the client always comes first. Once they master this and their business flourishes, some ego can be warranted.”